Spain dominantly won the first edition of the newly shaped World Aquatics World Cup. It was Spain’s first goal medal in the World Cup or the former World League.
However, the Spaniards’ success in Los Angeles was in a shadow of a strange finish of the bronze-medal game between the USA and Hungary and the repeated four minutes and 24 seconds of the fourth quarter.
The Spaniards are partly “culprits” because their success did not attract as much attention as it deserved. Their excellent performance, especially in defense, made the final game boring. Everything was decided after three quarters. Spain earned a 6-goal advantage in the first 24 minutes (10:4). After that, the fourth quarter was only a formality. Both rivals played without big intensity in the last eight minutes. There were no goals and only one exclusion in each team in the final quarter. There was no excitings in the final. Therefore, the thrilling bronze medal match was in the foreground for almost all water polo fans and experts, except for the Spaniards and Italians.
The Spaniards dominated the entire World Cup. They suffered only one loss (to Serbia in Division 1 in Podgorica, but after a penalty shootout). They opened the Los Angeles tournament with an easy 18:9 win over Germany. In the semifinals, Spain beat Hungary 10:8. But that match was similar to the final. Spain led 9:4 after three quarters. A late comeback didn’t help Hungary.
Spain has remained on the same path it embarked on five years ago.
The Spanish national team went out on that path after years of disappointments and failures. In 2015, it failed to qualify for the World Championships for the first time in history. Fifth place at the 2016 Europeans and seventh at the Rio Olympics weren’t satisfying results. Late in 2016, David Martin was appointed head coach, but his debut wasn’t great. Ninth place at the 2017 World Championships didn’t indicate that Spain could become a favorite for medals again in the near future.
Everyone falls, but it’s important if you can get back. Spain got back and started the row of medals.
Great series since 2018
Five years ago, a magnificent series started. The Spaniards won bronze in the 2018 World League, their first medal after six years and silver in the 2012 World League. Since then, Spain has reached at least the semifinals of all competitions it played (it didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup and 2021 World League). It won nine medals in 10 appearances in the semifinals.
Spain’s results at major competitions since 2018
2018 – World League: bronze, European Championships: silver, World Cup: didn’t qualify because of 9th place at the 2017 Worlds
2019 – World League: 4th place, World Championships: silver.
2020 – European Championships: silver.
2021 – World League: didn’t qualify (4th place in Europe), Olympic Games: 4th place
2022 – World Championships: gold, World League: bronze, European Championships: bronze
2023 – World Cup: gold.
But, the medals in the World Cup won’t be very important if the teams that achieved success don’t upgrade them at the end of July. Of course, each team’s primary goal is the World Championships in Fukuoka.
Winning the World Championships is always more demanding than taking the gold medal in the less important competition of the year.
Spain will be defending the title, but it isn’t the only team with quality to take the crown. All favorites should be in better shape in Fukuoka than they are now.
Italy has also kept its continuity of appearances in the semifinals after winning silver (World Championships), gold (World League), and 4th place (European Championships) last year. A 4:10 loss in the final is certainly very painful, but it will be a good lesson before the Worlds.
The circle of the contenders for the semifinals hasn’t significantly changed in the last five years. Besides Spain and Italy, there are Hungary, Croatia, Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro. In addition, the difference in quality between the top European squads and the USA has become smaller and smaller. After all, the Americans’ latest results prove that.
First week of Fukuoka tournament can be essential
Spain will have tough opponents already in the group phase – Serbia and Montenegro. The two teams still haven’t overcome the inevitable difficulties after the generational changes. But, despite that fact, Serbia and Montenegro may go high. Both teams played a few excellent matches this year. Don’t forget that Serbia is the only team to beat Spain this year (after a penalty shootout). However, Spain will be a favorite against the Serbs and the Montenegrins (South Africa is the 4th participant in this group).
First place in this group brings a big advantage. Considering the draw, the winner of this group will have wide-open doors to the semifinals if there are no surprises in the group stage.
So, the first week of the Worlds may determine Spain’s (or Serbia’s or Montenegro’s) future road in the tournament.
I If Spain wins gold in Fukuoka it will become only the fourth team to become the champion of two World Aquatics’ (FINA’s) competitions in the same year. In 2003, Hungary won the World League and the World Championships. Serbia and Montenegro did the same two years after. Serbia won the World League and the World Championships in 2013.
Their results in the World Cup are promising for the Spaniards, who are aware of the burden that every favorite has, of the strong competition. Nevertheless, they are preparing for Fukuoka with cheerful expressions.
Spain’s strengths are experience, great shape, a high level of results, excellent players for each of the seven positions in the water, and cool heads. The latter comes with experience. The team is experienced, but it’s not old. Almost all of the players who represented Spain in Los Angeles (and will play in Fukuoka) will be the pillars of the national team for years. Therefore, it seems that the end of the successful series isn’t near.
Head coach David Martin’s words in an interview with the Spanish Swimming Federation after the World Cup encourage the fans of “La Furia Roja” and explain everything:
“I am very happy with the team. I think the players have competed very well. It is true that we are not at 100% since the preparation is focused on getting to Fukuoka well, which is the main competition. But this gives us the confidence to continue along the way. We must continue, keeping our feet on the ground”.